Battalion Squares and Attack Columns

Home Forums Historical Black Powder Battalion Squares and Attack Columns

Viewing 4 posts - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
  • Author
  • #183393

    I was reading today. It doesn’t seem like battalions squares (and perhaps, too, brigade squares) as well as attack columns weren’t used commonly until the Napoleonic Wars. So, knowing this, should I not allow these formations in my War of Spanish Succession scenarios? How about any other scenarios that precede the Napoleonic Wars? Please advise.


    Prior to the Napoleonic wars, the “hollow” square was not used.  Austrians used what many rules called “battalionmasse” or a solid square when infantry was exposed to cavalry attacks.  This formation simple involved the left and right side of the column to face outward.  It helped them deal with massive amount of Turkish cavalry they faced in their on going wars with the Ottoman empire.  But it had problems…

    The “hollow” square was developed at the very end of the Seven Year’s War as part of a new tactical system some writers have referred to as the “impulse” system… Under this new flexible tactical system every battalion operated almost autonomously and so had to be able to defend itself against cavalry, screen itself  against light infantry, etc.  The key to the “impulse” system was the integration of light infantry into the battalions and their ability to form hollow squares… and with that they left behind the far more rigid “linear” system (which people confuse with idea of units being in line… rather than a whole brigade being deployed in a series of rigid lines where each battalion in the line covered the flanks of the battalion on its left or right.  The ends of these brigade lines were anchored on terrain, cavalry brigades or in some cases units in column that could form closed columns if cavalry attacked protecting themselves but more importantly the whole line of “sister battalions” in the brigade.

    Most wargame rules present the “attack column” as a shock formation… but really it was the reserve.  Reinforced skirmish companies would engage the enemy softening them up.  If the target started to falter the arrival of a large number of troops in attack column was often enough to see them off without any real contact.  But if the target did not falter, then the column would deploy in line and the skirmishers withdraw leading to a traditional exchange of fire between opposing lines… the point is attack columns were not used to melee, but rather to give the battalion greater mobility and maneuverability on the battlefield.

    Where columns were used as “shock formations” was when charging into a town… to navigate streets or in other cases where some “defile” made deployment in line unsuitable.  In those instances, these “assault” vs “attack” columns would be used to negotiate the narrow defile… because of the restrictive terrain there was no fear of being “flanked”.

    So with this as background, I would not allow units to use columns other than as maneuver formations unless the terrain dictates otherwise.

    Garry Wills

    I would recommend the Last Argument of Kings supplement (£7.50 for the pdf). It amends the rules for the 18th Century battles in several interesting ways. As has been said it removes the attack column and also modifies how march columns deploy.

    invisible officer

    To say that battalion squares are not used at all in 1700 would be wrong. For example the Bavarian regulations of 1680 has squares of different sizes, from brigade down to battalion. Funny thing, it was oval, not square.


    Solid squares are often found in 18th century and some hollow ones are trained too. The movement by tactical  “divisions” instead of companies made that a bit different from Napoleonic times.

    The solid one was still used in Napoleonic times, esp. the French used them because the movement by column made that easier.


    “Arttack” columns had been tested in war by the French in SYW. Bringing the troops much closer to the spot of fighting than in normal  linear orders.

    In early French Revolution army it was used to bring the badly trained volunteers to the front in some order but soon that was no longer nessary.

    In fact attacks in column happened long before. In attacking bridges or over streets in woods  it was the natural formation. In war of Spanish succession we have some situations that made the commanders use a column attack.



    To claim that the later French columns are not used as attack formation is misleading.  To find the point to go into line was difficult on a black poweder battlefield. The voltigeurs added to that problem.

    For example at Jena 1806 the officer losses show how close the tete de colonne came to the Prussian and Saxon lines. Failing to go into line for fire power. Only the flight of the Allies before the mass won the day, French losses being higher.  The regulations put the flank companies to the columns side or back (!) , feeding the small skirmishing groups in front. Even the French legeres  infantry regiments used the same tactic that put most muskets out of use.

    One might claim a clash in column as being a tactical accident. Not intended but happening again and again.

Viewing 4 posts - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.